NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices fell about 1 percent on Monday, pressured by data showing weakening imports and exports in China that raised new worries about a global economic slowdown hurting crude demand.
Brent crude futures fell 61 cents to $59.87 a barrel by 12:54 p.m. EST (1754 GMT), trading as low as $59.27 intraday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 36 cents to $51.23 a barrel, after sinking to a session low earlier of $50.43.
Data out of China spurred fresh concerns about weakness in the global economy. China’s exports fell by the most in two years in December while imports contracted, official figures showed.
“Oil prices are getting weighted down by the prospects of weaker economic growth in China,” Stephen Innes of futures brokerage Oanda said in a report.
“This data drives home just how negative of an impact trade war is having on the Chinese and perhaps global economy.”
Despite concern about the outlook, there is little sign that Chinese oil demand has weakened yet. China’s crude imports in December surged nearly 30 percent from a year earlier, Reuters calculations of customs data showed.
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday that he is not worried about a global slowdown hurting oil demand as of yet.
“The global economy is strong enough, I’m not too concerned. If a slowdown happens, it will be mild, shallow and short,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
Crude futures have rallied recently after sinking to one-and-a-half year lows reached in late December.
“There’s a close proximity to $50 (for WTI),” said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho in New York. “There’s a significant amount of new length in the market in crude oil and interest in keeping the market above that number.”
With the recent rally, OPEC officials appear more confident that prices will be supported by output declines in January as producers implement the deal agreed to by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC allies, including Russia, in December to cut oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day.
Al-Falih said on Sunday the oil market was “on the right track” and there was no need for an extraordinary OPEC meeting before its next planned gathering in April.
Additional reporting by Alex Lawler in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Louise Heavens